News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Fitness Groups Stops Payments to Schools

The National School Fitness Foundation, an American Fork, Utah-based nonprofit group, will stop reimbursing schools for sports equipment because of declining revenues. ("Risk Seen in Deals Offered by Fitness Group," March 17, 2004.)

The organization is under investigation by the attorney general’s office and the state department of commerce in Minnesota, where it has done business with 19 school districts. The Minnesota commerce department has taken legal action to stop it from doing business in the state.

"The foundation has done nothing wrong, and we believe strongly that the foundation will weather the enormous disruption and expense of this investigation," Cameron Lewis, the organization’s president, said in a letter to schools. "However, ... the foundation has been forced to postpone its voluntary contributions to schools."

More than 450 schools in 18 states take part in the foundation’s L.I.F.T. America program, which outfits schools with fitness equipment, staff training, curricula, and other materials. Schools pay School Fitness Systems, a for-profit company closely affiliated with the foundation, between $112,000 and $220,000 for the program. In return, the foundation repays districts from money it says it receives from private donations and federal grants.

The Minnesota commerce department, though, said that almost all of the foundation’s income comes from School Fitness Systems, raising questions on whether the foundation can keep reimbursing schools.

—Rhea R. Borja

Georgia Supreme Court Rules For Star Player on Felony Charge

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled last week that Marcus Dixon, a star high school football player who had sex with a 15-year-old girl in a school trailer, should not have been prosecuted for aggravated child molestation.

The state’s highest court ruled on May 3 that the student at Pepperell High School in Rome, Ga., should have been prosecuted under a lesser charge of misdemeanor rape for having sex with a minor.

Mr. Dixon, 18, was convicted of the felony last year and faced a mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison.

The decision, which drew national attention, provoked charges of racism by some who saw the jury’s decision as overly punitive. Mr. Dixon is black; the student with whom he had sex is white.

Mr. Dixon, an honor student who spent a year behind bars and lost his football scholarship to Vanderbilt University, was released after the ruling. He will return to court to face sentencing for misdemeanor rape charges.

—John Gehring

St. Louis School Board Member Removed From Office by Court

A member of the St. Louis school board has been removed from the panel by a circuit court judge following repeated complaints about her behavior.

Circuit Judge David L. Dowd ruled late last month after a brief trial that Rochelle Moore, an elected member of the city school board, had shown "gross misconduct" in office.

Ms. Moore has engaged "in a pattern of outrageous behavior and a course of conduct that involves threats and acts of physical violence directed toward certain fellow board members and board employees with whom the defendant has disagreements," Judge Dowd wrote in the April 29 order.

Specifically, Ms. Moore doused Assistant Superintendent Charlene Jones with a pitcher of ice water, left threatening voice-mail messages on the machine of fellow board member Amy Hilgemann and her husband, brandished a belt at a school board meeting and threatened to hit Ms. Hilgemann with it, and slapped Ms. Hilgemann in the head at another board meeting, the judge found.

The decision came after 14 residents petitioned the court to remove Ms. Moore from the board.

Mayor Francis G. Slay is slated to appoint a new board member to fulfill Ms. Moore’s term, which expires next spring.

Ms. Moore’s lawyer, Donnell Smith, did not return a call for comment.

—Ann Bradley

‘Working Group’ to Oversee Probe of New Orleans Schools

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and several other federal, state, and local agencies have formed a special "working group" to probe allegations of criminal violations in the New Orleans public schools.

Anthony S. Amato, the superintendent of the 80,000-student district, and community leaders requested that the group be formed to review suspicious transactions and activities by employees or associates of employees of the school system, according to an April 29 news release issued by the office of the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Education.

The agencies involved in the group are: the New Orleans office of the FBI, Mr. Amato’s office, the legislative auditor of the state of Louisiana, the New Orleans police department, the New Orleans office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Orleans Parish district attorney, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and the office of the inspector general of the Education Department.

A former director of the district’s insurance department and a contractor have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from an investigation into fraud and mismanagement. ("New Orleans Schools Focus of Fraud Probe," Oct. 22, 2003.)

—Ann Bradley

Cleveland Students Charged In Teammate’s Shooting Death

Two high school football players in Cleveland have been charged in the shooting death of a teammate.

Lorenzo Hunter, a 16-year-old sophomore at Benedictine High School, died of gunshot wounds on April 16 after he and two other teammates allegedly tried to use a toy gun to rob a man, who pulled out a gun and shot Mr. Hunter.

Raymond Williams and Jon Huddleston, both 18-year-old seniors at the school, were charged with murder and aggravated robbery because they were at the scene of the crime and involved in the incident, according to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office. Neither Mr. Williams or Mr. Huddleston has entered a plea.

Mr. Williams, who in November won the annual Ohio Mr. Football award given out by the Associated Press, was supposed to attend West Virginia University this coming fall. The university has withdrawn that offer.

Gerard Gonda, the principal of Benedictine High, said in a statement that the two seniors had been placed on "indefinite out-of-school suspension."

—John Gehring

Illinois Students Suspended For Lacing Brownies With Exlax

Four 8th graders in suburban Chicago have been suspended for their involvement in distributing brownies containing a laxative to 25 classmates.

Officials at Woodlawn Middle School in Long Grove, Ill., said they became aware of the prank not long after brownies containing Exlax had been eaten by students on April 27.

The students who brought the brownies to the school revealed what they had done shortly after their classmates ate the brownies, according to an April 29 letter to parents posted on the Web site of the school, located the 3,700-student Kildeer Countryside School District 96.

No students were harmed by eating the over-the-counter laxative, according to the letter. School officials estimate that each brownie contained no more than one dose.

The students involved in the prank, who were not identified, got the idea from a television show, Superintendent Thomas W. Many said.

—Sean Cavanagh

N.J. Coach Disciplined For ‘Crybaby’ Trophy

A middle school basketball coach in New Jersey who gave one of his players a "crybaby award" has been told by the district’s superintendent that he will not coach in the district again and must make a public apology.

James Guillen, 24, a special education teacher at Pleasantville Middle School in Pleasantville, N.J., gave 13-year-old Terrence Philo Jr. a trophy—the figure of an infant atop a pedestal—with the student’s name and the inscription "Crybaby Award" at a team awards banquet last month.

The student’s first name was spelled incorrectly on the plaque.

The Pleasantville board of education, against the recommendation of Superintendent Edwin Coyle, voted 5-4 on May 4 to fire the teacher.

But state law requires that hiring and firing recommendations come only from the superintendent, according to Damon Tyner, a lawyer for the school board.

The superintendent, Mr. Tyner said, made an administrative decision to require that the teacher not coach again in the district, make a public apology, and receive sensitivity training.

Mr. Guillen, who has not spoken publicly about the incident, is still teaching at the school, Mr. Tyner said last week.

— John Gehring

Vol. 23, Issue 36, Page 4

Published in Print: May 12, 2004, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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